Storylines for the Longhorns as they face Oklahoma State on Saturday:
1. Handling success
Texas doesn’t understand success. Not anymore. Not after going 5-7 and 8-5. After starting 4-0 last season, Texas was unable to string together wins against teams with winning records. For example, back-to-back wins against Kansas and Texas Tech were followed by back-to-back losses to Missouri and Kansas State. A win against Texas A&M was followed by a loss to Baylor.
So now, after a 3-0 nonconference schedule that included a 66-31 win at Ole Miss, Texas coach Mack Brown is left to wonder if his team understands how to not only embrace the success it has had, but feed off it.
"They have shown the ability to come back in difficult games, but do they have the ability to do it when people are bragging on them for the first time offensively, because we haven’t had that," Brown said. "It has been a long time around since people were pleased with what they saw offensively. How will the guys handle that? Can they take that passion and enthusiasm and confidence into Stillwater?"
2. Swing and miss
The number of missed tackles made by Texas varies depending on the source counting them. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said there were 11. Mack Brown said nine. A cursory examination of the TV copy of the game produced 16. Whatever the number, Texas said it was too many. And Texas knows one will be too many against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have the talent to turn a 5-yard play into a 50-yard touchdown at any time. Jeremy Smith did just that against Texas last year, going for 74- and 30-yard touchdowns on plays that appeared innocuous at first. That is, until Texas took the wrong angle.
With a bye week to prepare, Texas worked on everything from head position when tackling to angles that need to be taken to driving through the runner. That practice, along with the knowledge that talent is not the issue, just fundamentals, at least has Texas' coaches encouraged that the missed tackles can be fixed.
"The one thing we think is that they are correctable issues," said Brown. "They are angles on tackles. They are getting heads down.
"We took out every missed tackle and we tried to address exactly what happened," he said. "We have addressed it with each one of the players. We have always had tackling drills but there was a better emphasis on them last week."
3. Up front
Mack Brown knew from the start of the Ole Miss game that things, while maybe not easy, would be easier for his offense. That’s because he saw how the offensive line was blocking and the running backs were running.
But what Brown didn’t learn is if Texas is as good as he thought along the line of scrimmage. That’s because the Longhorns have yet to be tested. Against Oklahoma State they will be.
"Our biggest question mark is that we have been better in the two lines of scrimmage than the three teams we have played," he said. "And this will be a very even matchup in my estimation up front and will be a great challenge for us to see if we can still do the things we’ve been doing."
Texas has averaged 259 rushing yards and 256 passing yards per game. In the one game the Cowboys have played against an AQ school, Arizona, they allowed 181 rushing yards and 320 passing yards -- plus 59 points.
4. Life without Hicks
Texas has not ruled linebacker Jordan Hicks out. But the reality is that the team’s leading tackler will almost certainly be on the sideline with a hip pointer injury.
That has forced Texas to make some adjustments. But it won't be only one player who takes Hicks’ spot.
"When you look at their points, their snaps per game as well, we'll never last if we just play two linebackers or three linebackers," Diaz said. "It's a week where we have to have depth."
Texas has three backups it can select from to fill Hicks’ role -- Tevin Jackson, Kendall Thompson and Dalton Santos. Thompson is the most likely choice. He played strongside linebacker against Ole Miss and has the most experience. Santos is more of a middle linebacker so if he came in that would force some serious shifting of personnel with Steve Edmond or Santos going outside.
Texas would like to go nickel, but with the distinct possibility that a running quarterback will be playing most of the game they need to have the third linebacker in there.
5. Lunt or Walsh
Although it appears more and more unlikely that Oklahoma State quarterback Wes Lunt will play because of a knee injury, Texas still has to prepare for the possibility that the Cowboys will use two quarterbacks.
The issue is that those quarterbacks have contrasting styles. Lunt is a pocket passer. J.W. Walsh, the likely starter, is a more of a dual-threat quarterback.
Diaz certainly has prepared for the two contrasting styles, but he has not allowed his team to get wrapped up in being a different defense for the different quarterbacks.
"You still have to prepare for what they are going to do and what they are going to do best," he said. "We're still early enough in the year with no matter what quarterback played, you still have to have the mindset of stay loose and adjust. If they had no injury, with a bye week, they could come out with some different wrinkles to their offense.
"What you have to do is you have to teach your defense. We need to get good at what we need to get good at, understand the concepts of our defense, find out who they are, what they want to be. You never know until you get in the game, then go on from there."